Saturday, September 12, 2009

2009-10 ECB Roundtable -- Preseason Q & A

Pico Dulce over at The East Coast Bias shot me a 7 question email with a request that I limit responses to 100 words (to each question...right Pico?). It seems a number of other bloggers, including Villanova's own IBBW Blog, posted their responses, both to Pico and their blogs. Pico will publish a compilation sometime in the next week or so, but for now, here is my response (with a few expanded comments)...

1. What's new with your team since the end of last season?
VBTN -- Scottie Reynolds put in for the draft, but decided to return for his senior season. Corey Fisher played on the USA team as they took the bronze medal at the World University Games in Belgrade in July. Corey benefited from the competition, and the nearly 3 weeks of structured practice under Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan. Reggie Redding (the Wildcat's glue guy) had a run-in with the law and has been benched for the fall semester, though he will attend classes and practice with the team during his punishment. The Wildcats welcome a 4 man class of freshmen to campus this fall. All are Top 100, with 3 Top 50. Two (Mouphtaou Yarou and Isaiah Armwood) will step into the front court. Dominic Cheek will join Corey Stokes on the wing while Malik Wayns will take his place in the back court. Taylor King, a #3/#4 transfer from Duke, and Maurice Sutton, a red shirt freshman, will suit up this season as well, and join the front court contingent. Also -- Scottie & Fisher were named to the Wooden Preseason List, an honor they shared with 50 of his peers. noted that Villanova was one of 9 schools to have 2 players named to the preseason list. Assistant Coach Pat Chambers left the program to take the helm of the Boston University Terriers. The Nova Nation can have a mini-reunion as Coach Chambers will also take his Terriers to the Puerto Rico Tip Off this November.

2. Cash or Clunker: Name the teams that you think will be the top 3 squads next season in the Big East (the Cash)... and the bottom 3 (Clunkers). Bonus: which team's finish in the league is most difficult to predict?
VBTN -- Cash:  The Gold may not Glitter quite as brightly this season, but my choices are West Virginia, Villanova and Louisville. The 'Eers and 'Cats were installed as the front runners since oh...April 6. Louisville may have lost their studs (Clark and Williams) but returns everyone else. And "everyone else" is very good. They add Peyton Siva in the back court and re-inforce the front court with Rakeem Buckles and Stephan Van Treese. Whether the staff decides to play Knowles and Smith together on the wing or go with a "twin towers" look -- Jennings and Samuels together in the front court, opponents will be challenged to counter. Also -- I usually divide the conference into ¼s, so naming three felt a bit strange. For those bloggers who named Connecticut...I see the Huskies finishing in the top 4. The choice of Louisville over Connecticut came down to returning minutes, and the needs that needed to be filled. The Huskies return 39% of their minutes, and have to replace their front court (Adrien and Thabeet). I am a big Kimba Walker fan, but he did not make the progress I thought he would over the course of last season. Louisville returns 54% of their minutes and have to replace their #3 and #4 (both NBA 1st round draft picks, which, when coupled with Coach Pitino's personal problems, explains why most MSM's are cautious with predictions). And Payton Siva should solve the Cards' lingering problems at the point.
VBTN -- Clunkers:  DePaul, Rutgers and (this one really pains me...) Providence. Like the Cash, DePaul and Rutgers have to be a consensus pick. If the lack of talent does not do in the Demons, the uncertainty over the staff's future will. The Friars return 6 players from last season's squad, but Curry, McKenzie and Brooks are the only ones who logged significant time. They have four players over 6-6, but none logged any minutes in Providence last season (3 red shirts and a JUCO). Davis is recruiting New England very hard, and will have the Friars back -- in 2011.
Also -- I overlooked the bonus question in my response to Pico, but the answer is clearly Notre Dame. My predictions have been 180 degrees wrong three seasons running. I also wonder about the trio of Cincinnati, Seton Hall and St. John's. Much is expected of these three -- each returns most of their 2009 team, has addressed their 2009 weaknesses through additions to their respective squads and appear ready to move up in the conference. Can returning minutes (and good intentions) provide the energy to break through that "glass ceiling" that seems to separate the lower division from the upper division?

3. The Big East enters the season without a lot of players who have carryover buzz from last season - Luke Harangody and perhaps Scottie Reynolds are the names a casual fan might be most familiar with. Which players will step up and be the "face of the league"?
VBTN -- IBBW identified Greg Monroe out of Georgetown in his blog...he is a good choice. My 2 cents -- Samardo Samuels out of Louisville will draw early media attention, as will Corey Fisher from Villanova. Other good candidates include Jerome Dyson out of Connecticut, Ashton Gibbs of Pittsburgh and Devon Ebanks from West Virginia.  Also -- As I read other blog responses to this question, I wonder if some of us missed the point. I have no doubt Luke Harangody and Scottie Reynolds will get a good deal of free press, especially in the early weeks of the season. Their previous seasons' stats and heroics will be the wind at their (collective) backs going into December/January. I understood the intent of Pico's question to be who among the non-seniors will emerge with the kind of performances that will stay with the broadcasters, electronic media and the fans. I believe those who fill the "face" role will...
1. Be outstanding performers -- obvious right? But I am thinking in the context of possession-based stats when I use that description...the "face" will take >=24% of his team's possessions and shots. And turn in a few eye-popping performances. "Faces" don't have to make Sports Center-worthy, "Play of the Day" sequences, but they do have to turn in the kind of (efficient) performances that warrant extra defensive attention.
2. Come from teams which are successful. Laboring in the vinyard is expected of any outstanding player, but laboring in the right vinyard -- the one that yields the most memorable wine -- is necessary for media exposure and accolades. Which is why Greg Monroe, Samardo Samuels, Jerome Dyson and Devon Ebanks are obvious choices. They are outstanding players on very good teams. Gibbs has not established his bona fides quite yet, but Pitt rarely falls far after their upper classmen depart en masse, and Gibbs saw a lot of minutes in the FIBA U19 tournament in New Zealand. That squad took the gold.

4. Before practice starts, who would you say is the most pivotal player on your team? Who is your candidate for breakout player in the Big East (and please state how the player will be better than last year)?
Antonio Pena without a doubt. Should Pena become a reliable front court presence, the team will have an anchor in the paint and staff will have many more options for front court looks. They could move 'Tone to the #5 and bring in King at the #4 for a true 4-out 1-in offense. Or put Morph at the #5 and 'Tone at the #4 for setting high screens and getting lane penetration and rebounding/putbacks on offense and shutting down the lane and blocks on defense. If Pena stumbles, the staff will have to push Morph, Sutton, Armwood and King along a lot faster.

Breakout player -- Jeremy Hazell of Seton Hall. Hazell has produced very efficiently (109.8), taking nearly 3 in 10 possessions (28.0) and shots (31.6) on a team that recorded an offensive efficiency of 103.1. He was the Pirate every opposing defense knew they had to throttle, but still he managed to record very good numbers. If, as Hazell distracts defenses, Herb Pope, Keon Lawrence, Stix Mitchell and John Garcia can finish the play, they will be a nightmare on defenses. I am not sure Hazell can get more possessions or shots, but with fewer defenders dogging him, he may be able to hit a few more shots. Hazell may not record "breakout" level basketball numbers, but if the Hall's record improves dramatically, Hazell and his Pirate band should record "breakout" level media numbers.

5. Twitter has become influential in broadcasting basketball/ sports information. What's your opinion of the service? Have you adopted Twitter for your blog? What have been the plusses and minuses?
I like it, though I use it only "situationally". I followed the World University Games via twitter, having the final scores hours before they were published by the news services. I have not adopted it for Villanova by the Numbers. I never intended to have VBTN be a "breaking news" blog/website. I want to wait a day or two and write about what the "news" means, rather than what it is. I want to use the numbers as a means to understand why "it" happened. Twitter is more valuable to me as a "news source/news alert" for events that I know will not get a lot of media attention initially. Twitter is good for "who", "what" and "when". I want VBTN to be more about "why".

6. What have you been doing with your time without basketball games?
Trolling the international tournaments and following the Big East players this summer. I did some research on the history of the Big 5 (Philadelphia's City Series) and discovered the series records over at the official web site were incorrect. While I did get a reply to my email, they have not updated the site to correct the error. I also did a little (not nearly enough) traveling, spending a week in one of the nation's truly special natural treasures -- the Great Smokies.  Also -- I chipped away at a (lately) backlogged reading list that included American Lion: Andrew Jackson, Team of Rivals and American Places.

7. The summer is slow; so when Pitino's "mistake" is made public, or when Calipari's former team is penalized, or when someone posits a way for the Big East Conference to pick up new football members, the story tends to stick around a little longer than it would during the season. What college basketball story are you tired of this off season?
VBTN -- With apologies to Pico, I made a right turn around here...Pitino's indiscretion and speculation over the next Big East football school are not basketball stories, yet they appropriate resources that could/ought to go to legitimate "basketball" stories. I am, for example, very curious to learn about "touring teams", unaffliated with specific schools (but sometimes with specific causes), that are staffed with DI players and appear to tour abroad during the summer. Corey Chandler for example, late of Rutgers, joined one of those teams and toured Europe in late July/early August. When he returned to Rutgers he was dismissed from the program. I am not suggesting a "cause/effect" relationship between those two events, but the timing was curious. How do these teams (there are a number of them) differ from the USA Basketball-sponsored international teams (U16, U19, World University Games, Pan American teams, etc)? Are the players sponsored, or do they pay their own way? How does the selection process operate (are the training/tryout schedules)? Who arranges their opponents/competition? Who are the coaches? How are they selected?

While the talking heads have all weighed in on whether Memphis' punishments was fair or not fair, no one has tracked down Rose to find out what exactly happened that weekend in Detroit. No one has tracked down the sources to establish a real timeline to account for his activities. The circumstances were peculiar, and potentially illegal. We seem to have 500 commentators and 0 reporters these days.

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